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Roman Harak
Roman Harak

Our Northern Neighbor

A taste of North Korean in Seoul

Written by
Hahna Yoon
My grandfather has only once discussed the passing of his parents in the Korean War to his children and grandchildren—when I came back to Korea after 17 years. A kind but stoic man, he welled up with tears as he rushed through the story: He was only 13 years old when his parents told him to pack and run away and that they would catch up soon. A few minutes from his house, he looked back to see that his home, with his parents in it, had been lit on fire. In his own way, by telling me this anecdote, my grandfather wanted me to know the significance of this place he believed I should consider home.
My story isn’t particularly unique; many South Koreans can relay similar tales of their parents and their parents’ parents. Seoul is a blooming, blossoming city but the color of our capital is made even brighter when contrasted to the war only a short drive from here (an armistice agreement was signed in 1953, but the two Koreas are technically still at war). The cuisine, culture and stories of that some might consider brother or enemy still hold so much relevance here in Seoul. Our histories are inescapably intertwined and they are, to say the least, our neighbors. By Hahna Yoon

Part 1) North Korea 104

Part 2) A taste of the North

A taste of the North
  • Restaurants
In most English news these days, when the words “food” and “North Korea” are used in the same sentence, they’re probably not talking about Pyongyang’s restaurant scene. While focus shouldn’t waver from the food shortages and famine, it’s important to remember that North Korea’s food culture and history is rich and varied. Seoul is home to dozens of restaurants owned by defectors or the descendants of Koreans from the North, and it’s not all naengmyeon and mandu—you’ll find stews, seafood and even royal cuisine on these menus. As North Korean Traditional Food Institute founder Lee Ae-ran points out, it’s more accurate to talk about Korean food in terms of regions, not in terms of the sharp division between the North and South. So is there a North Korean cuisine? Perhaps not in strict terms, but what you’ll taste at these restaurants is influenced by the history and geography of the north—go and se for yourself.

Part 3) Exploring the divide

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